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The Deepest Cave?

Stan Gee, who is well known to most older club members, sends us this interesting account of his work in Italy.

In response to numerous requests in the B.B. I have at last put pen to paper in effort to tell of some of the recent, and not so recent doings of a group of friends which includes several B.E.C. members.  For some years, from 1968 in fact, we have been very interested in the area of the Appian Alps in Italy wherein lies the Antro del Corchia which we have had high hopes that it might become the deep¬est cave known. These hopes are now all but realised, though we were 'pipped at the post' as it were.  However, we can take some consolation in the fact that it was our researches into the area which led to this happy state of affairs.

For those of you who like to mix mountaineering with caving, the Appian Alps are ideal.  Lying some 12 miles (19km) inland from Viareggio, they soar up to 7, 000ft (2,000 odd metres) in parts and provide some excellent climbing on limestone and marble with runs of 1,000 ft (300m) and more.  The area, though quite remote and wild, is well provided with good footpaths and several Rifugi of the Italian Alpine Club.  It abounds with wild life, including too many snakes for comfort and there are hundreds of caves of varying depths.  The nearest point of access is the village of Leviglian - a small semi-tourist village nestling beneath the bulk of Monte Corchia (5,470' - 1,677m).  From here, you must walk, though it is possible to use a recently constructed quarry road, to reach some parts of the mountain, but in the main you must be prepared to walk for a couple of hours or more.

I first became interested in the are in 1968 when I led an expedition of the Derbyshire Caving Club to the Antro del Corchia.  This was something of an epic adventure that resulted in the extent of the cave being more or less doubled.  A couple of years later, I made my first excursion into the mysterious area beyond the Corchia ridge and commenced the programme of research which is still continuing.

My companions on some of these ventures have been Arthur Ball and Nigel Dibben, both of whom are B.E.C. members, and after some years Arthur and myself were offered that rare distinction of full membership of the C.A.I.  A happy situation which has be of great assistance to our work.

The old entrance to the Antro del Corchia is at 3,600ft (1,100m) and in 1968 had attained a depth of 2,200ft (670m).  This seemed to be the downward limit though there was ample room for extension horizontally.  The Antro played tricks on us and did not resurge where we thought it would but, by a 'geological impossibility' it changed direction and resurged at La Pollacra - some two and a half miles (4km) in the opposite direction.  Thus it was that we went beyond the ridge and commenced working much higher up.

In 1972 I had heard of two caves situated near to the summit of Monte Corchia and as a consequence in 1973 I scoured the area of the summit with a small party where we found two fluted shafts approximately twenty feet deep (6m).  At the time we thought that that they were the two known caves and it wasn't until the next year that we found that they were two unknown caves - the known ones being a little further on.   Thus, in 1975 with a larger party and well armed with crowbars, hammers etc, we slogged up the mountain in temperatures of 80°F (27°C) to dong the caves. The geologists laughed.  It was impossible.  The caves were too old.  There was no water, too much frost shattering - in short, another geological impossibility.

Twenty minutes work on the first cave produced a shaft of a hundred feet (30m) and an eventual depth of 250ft (76m) to a boulder choke that even chemics failed to remove.  This cave was called Buca del Arturo (Arthur’s Hole). An hours work on the second cave and we had a similar situation but with an even worse boulder problem. This cave we called 'La buca dei massi dandelante' (the cave of the great hanging boulders).  The proximity of the two caves to each other led us to believe that there was something BIG beneath and 1,600ft (500m) above the Antro del Corchia, so were searched for and found the other two caves, the Buca del Gracchi (Cave of the Crows) which was an open shaft of 150ft (46m), and the Buca del Cacciatore (Hunters Hole).  Suitably impressed, we returned in 1976 to dong the Buca del Cacciatare only to find that an Italian group, who' had been following our progress, had donged it same months previously to a depth of 1600ft (500m) and a length of two and a half miles (4Km).  Being only a small exploration party, we did not have the necessary gear to attempt anything on this scale, so it was abandoned.

I have recently returned from Italy and am able to report that the Buca del Cacciatore - now renamed Abissa Fighiera is now at a depth af 2,700ft (820m) and heading away from the Antro del Corchia towards a cave called Tana dell Uomo Selvatico (The lair of the Primitive Man) which has a depth of -1,034ft(318m).  At the moment of writing, the Italians are being rather cagey about their finds but I was able to find out that at -2,700ft (820m) they have encountered a lot of water and two other galleries one of which is heading towards the Antro.  The Buca del Cacciatore is at an altitude of 5,360ft (1650m) which is approximately 1,788ft (550m) above the old entrance to the Antro which would give a total depth of 3,965ft (1,220m) to the present bottom.  It is known that a further 300ft (91m) is possible between the bottom and the resurgence, which would make 4,265ft (1,300m).  However, there is some evidence of a secondary and lower resurgence and this will be one of my future investigations.

In the early part of 1977, another group of Italian cavers did an epic pegging job from the 'Canyon' in the Antro and discovered two new entrances high up on Monte Corchia.  From the highest of these entrances, the Antro now has a depth of 2,616 feet (805m) to the bottom.  Access to the bottom is now quite easy, as our discovery in 1969 of the 'New Hope Series' culminated in the opening of a lower entran¬ce called the Buca dei Serpenti (Hole of Snakes) that is accessible by a rough road.  This route gives quick and easy access to the Stalactite Gallery which was adjacent to our camps in 1968.  Thus the bottom is now obtainable in a fifteen hour round trip and an interesting through trip can be made between the old entrance and the Buca dei Serpenti.

A combination of same of the Italian clubs have attempted to place same restrictions on access to the whole of the Corchia area and to the Cacciatore in particular.  In the case of the Corchia area, this is ridiculous and it is doubtful whether the restriction to the Cacciatore is legal.  At the moment, something of a battle is going on between the cavers and the local authority, which is a quarry workers co-operative. At present, if anyone is contemplating a trip to this area, they would be well advised to contact me beforehand so that I can let them have the up to date information.